You don’t have to give an employee a reference unless
• The employee’s contract of employment states that they are entitled to one, or
• You risk victimising the employee by not giving them a reference
That said it is rare to refuse to give an employee a reference because it can imply that you’ve had problems with the employee which could give rise to them claiming that you are discriminating against them in some way. If you don’t want to give an employee a reference I’d advise you to have a policy that states that the company will not provide a reference for any employee.
If you are giving an employee a reference you do not have to give lots of information, in fact, it’s worth thinking about only giving a bare minimum of information given the potential for come back; confirming the period of employment and job title whilst working for you. Include at the end a statement that it’s company policy to give a standard reference to prevent the new employer reading anything into the brevity of the information that you’ve given.
How do you respond to the pro forma reference request that is asking you lots of specific questions?
You have two options
• Ignore the pro forma questions and provide a standard reference (see above), or
• Answer the questions asked but;
o if you choose not to answer any of the questions you need to say why you are not answering
o don’t disclose information that may see you breaching the Data Protection legislation e.g. sickness absence details, without seeking the permission of your employee
Providing a reference on someone who has been dismissed?
Take care. Consider just giving a standard reference without referring to the dismissal. If you are going to mention it make sure that the reasons you give tally with those used to actually dismiss the employee.
Things to remember ….
• any reference that you give on headed paper or vi company e-mail will be treated as a business reference if there is a dispute
• you have an obligation to take care in providing any reference, it should be true, accurate and fair
• your ex-employee may obtain a copy of it, so make sure it’s accurate and sticks to facts not opinion
• don’t make comment on any alleged misconduct where there’s been no proper investigation and outcome
mark the reference private and confidential
• you can give a bad reference provided it is factual and cannot be seen as malicious and that you took care to make sure that the information is true
• create a policy on references and stick to it, be consistent in the way that you deal with references
• in your policy on references be explicit about which people in the organisation are authorised to give an employee a reference on behalf of your company